Making his shortest start as a member of the Red Sox -- in fact, the briefest outing by any Boston starter since Derek Lowe on Sept. 18, 2004, at Yankee Stadium -- Matsuzaka had just about nothing from the outset. The Cardinals let him know it, teeing off on the right-hander in what wound up a 9-3 victory over the Red Sox.
Just like that, the Cardinals ensured a series victory, meaning the Red Sox have lost a home series for the first time since April 22-24 against the Angels.
The Red Sox will send their hottest pitcher to the mound Sunday in Jon Lester in hopes of avoiding a three-game sweep.
"We're always disappointed whenever we lose a series," said Red Sox shortstop Alex Cora. "Our goal is to win every series we play, and, obviously, we can't do it now."
Matsuzaka, who was returning from the disabled list after his bout with a mild right rotator cuff strain, pitched just one full inning. He departed in the second with the bases loaded and nobody out. Two batters after Matsuzaka's exit, Chris Smith -- making his Major League debut -- gave up a grand slam to Troy Glaus.
"I got behind the ball a little bit, threw a little blooper up there," said Smith. "Troy is obviously an experienced hitter, and he probably said, 'Thank you,' and then hit it over the Monster. I threw that slurve, curveball, whatever you want to call it, and he just extended his arms and hit it as far as he could. I was trying to throw something down and away, and it didn't happen."
Once Glaus was done rounding the bases, the book officially closed on Dice-K, who was belted around for six hits and seven runs, walking three and striking out one. It was the first loss of the season for Matsuzaka, who is 8-1 with a 3.46 ERA.
"We caught a break," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "He's coming off the disabled list, and you could tell he was rusty. He fell behind and had to throw the ball down the middle. Sometimes you pop up. Today, we didn't."
Making his first start since May 27, Matsuzaka walked the first batter he faced in Skip Schumaker. Then, he gave up a two-run homer to Aaron Miles, who hadn't gone deep all season. Matsuzaka gave up four runs in the first, throwing 35 pitches in the process.
Matsuzaka stated emphatically that there was nothing wrong with him physically.
"I don't think there is any problem," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino. "I was hoping to do a good job after being away for so long, but I don't think the gap [in between starts] was part of the problem."
Aside from the grand slam, Smith's first career outing was a pretty good one. He gave up three hits and a run over four innings, walking none and striking out three.
"He came in in a difficult situation," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Besides the breaking ball to Glaus, what he really did for us was, because of the length he gave us, we have more of a chance to win the game [Sunday]. We didn't overuse anybody, and he pitched a lot. You can tell he loves to pitch. But he did a really good job."
Down 8-0 by the time they dug in for the second, the Red Sox were in uncharted waters.
"We haven't been in this situation in a year and a half or something," said Cora. "The big swing by Troy, that kind of took the air out of us. We kept battling, but it was a pretty big hole."
The only bright spot was Smith, who turned in the longest relief appearance for the Red Sox since Kyle Snyder went 4 1/3 innings against the Indians on July 31, 2006, a game that David Ortiz won with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth.
There were no such heroics in this one, as the Cardinals did a nice job of handling the Boston bats. Cora's two-run double in the second and J.D. Drew's solo homer to right in the sixth were simply not enough on a day Boston had dug such a large hole. Winning pitcher Mitchell Boggs went 5 1/3 innings, giving up five hits and three runs. The bullpen took it home by recording the final 11 outs without giving up a run.
"It's a tough way to play, a real tough way to play," said Francona. "We talk so much about scoring first and then scoring next, and that's exactly what they did."
Despite the end result, this was a memorable day for Smith, a 27-year-old veteran of the Minor Leagues.
"Four innings is a pretty long span, but it went so fast," Smith said. "Overall it was, to me, one of the greatest experiences ever. Words don't even explain what you feel when you come through those doors and then run out on the field. And not to mention, I made my debut with the bases loaded and no outs. That's kind of weird."
Weird would also be a way to explain what kind of day this was for Matsuzaka. When was the last time the righty logged just one inning -- if ever?
"Yes, I can remember," said Matsuzaka. "It happened in Japan, and I can't remember exactly how many years ago it was. But in that instance, I didn't even make it through the first inning."
Matsuzaka will now regroup before he next takes the ball at Houston on Friday.
"His outing wasn't as consistent or comparable to the way he threw the ball during his rehab start," said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. "Again, I think the most productive thing out of today is that he came out and felt fine. But the overall crispness and command and action of his stuff was well below his normal standard."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less